First, I’d like to apologise in advance for that headline. A few months ago, while meeting with Telecom, I mentioned that I had never actually been inside a telephone exchange. We discussed the possibility of having a quick tour of one and an explanation of how local loop unbundling (LLU) will be implemented.
Last week, that suggestion came to fruition, and more, and Telecom took me on a tour of, first, the Ponsonby exchange and then deep into the bowels of its Mayoral Drive facility.
Our “spirit guide” for the afternoon was Steve Smith, a 30-year Telecom veteran who had built and installed some of the gear we saw himself.
The Ponsonby exchange is larger than I expected, a multi-roomed facility including a backup generator. Steve explained that once it would have been manned, but now people come and go. There was a lot of activity when I was there.
He showed us the racks where “access seekers”, as competing ISPs are called these days, will be able to install their gear. Ponsonby will be a co-mingled site, so these DSLAMs will sit alongside Telecom’s own. That means the engineers who will service them have to be briefed, trained and certified to work inside such an important facility. That process is already under way.
I asked about exchange packing. While at Ponsonby there is clearly room to install masses of gear, are there exchanges where this is limited? It appears there are (Greenhithe was mentioned) but there aren’t very many and Telecom is not sure whether access seekers will be requesting to use these.
That’s because these ISPs will put their DSLAMs where most of their customers are. The hardware is not cheap, and they will want to use it effectively — and that means in areas where there are high concentrations of customers or potential customers.
So what difference will ADSL2 really make? This was a somewhat self-serving question as at home my broadband is less than stellar and I’ve been looking forward to a speed boost. Well, it appears that depends on where you are in relation to the exchange — very much as it does now.
ADSL2, apparently, will have a minimal speed impact on users who are several kilometres away from an exchange or subexchange. If you are within two kilometres, you should get a good boost and if you are within one, it should go like a rocket.
LLU, it seems, is also limited in some respects. Unbundling to the exchange level is on the way, but unbundling what Telecom calls the “sub-loop” is still problematical. These are the little boxes you sometimes see on the side of the road and there isn’t much room inside them at all.
Also, in some posh neighbourhoods known to complain about the quality of broadband (Paratai Drive perhaps?), residents put up fierce opposition to having these anywhere near their mansions.
Mayoral Drive reminded me of the Get Smart set, you know, at the start when he walks through the secret doors. We saw where the fibre comes in and goes out and the datacentres (Sun gear to burn, EMC, Storagetek and I saw my first Juniper switch. These cost $8 million each and Telecom has eight of them) and the huge backup generators that kept local espresso machines humming during the power crisis.
My overall impression? Telecom Wholesale, at least, really does seem to be trying to move on to the new competitive environment.